Miami volleyball poised for upcoming season

Miami redshirt sophomore outside hitter Elizaveta Lukianova powers down an attack in a 3-0 win over North Carolina Oct. 29 at James L. Knight Sports Complex. Lukianova is expected to be in the starting rotation this upcoming season. Photo credit: Josh White Photo credit: Josh White

A new school year means a fresh start for the Miami Hurricanes volleyball team.

The Canes are coming off a strong 22-6 season highlighted by their ninth NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.

“It’s always an exciting time of the year. We have a brand new team,” coach Jose “Keno” Gandara said. “Every group is different. I enjoy that part of it. I believe they understand each other’s differences, they respect each other and know they want the same thing. This group gets after it, every day. They learn from each other. I’m very proud with how they handled the preseason and I’m looking forward to watching them grow and mature.”

Miami lost three starters from a season ago, including last year’s ACC Player of the Year Olga Strantzali. The Hurricanes bring back seven players from 2017, led by four-time Preseason All-ACC Honoree Haley Templeton, who sits third in program history with 3,583 career assists. Standout senior outside hitter Kolby Bird is Miami’s returning kills leader after notching 281 kills in 2017.

“As [Olga] became a more well-rounded player, we were able to develop other players like Kolby [Bird] and Elizaveta [Lukianova],” Gandara said. “I’m pleased with their development, their maturity, their understanding of their jobs and they’re good examples for the younger girls.”

Along with Lukianova, UM also welcomes back fellow sophomore outside hitter Cameron Dobbs, who had a breakout campaign as a freshman.

“It’s incredible how mature and how big of a part they are of our team,” Gandara said about the sophomore duo. “They’re still young players and we obviously expect big things from them. We have high expectations for them.”

With eight newcomers, including seven freshmen and one transfer, the Canes are poised to see their younger players make big contributions on the court.

“The freshmen have really stepped up,” Templeton said. “They come in the gym and have gotten to work. We had two practices every day, bright and early and late at night. We’ve worked really hard this preseason.”

One underclassman who is expected to make an immediate impact is freshman outside hitter Chloe Brown.

“Chloe is always in the gym trying to get better every day,” Templeton said of the Beaverton, Oregon native. “She’s a very consistent hitter. She likes to put the ball in good places on the court.”

Despite the Hurricanes’ personnel changes, both coaches and players said the season objective remains the same.

“Every year our goal is to win the ACC. We definitely have a chance this year if we come together,” Bird said. “Since I’ve been here, I’ve experienced not making the NCAA Tournament and making the Tournament, and it’s just so fun. I think that’s another goal for us too.”

The Hurricanes have extra motivation heading into the year with Gandara, who enters his sixth season as head coach, with 99 career wins.

“It means that I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good players. I’ve had some good players and people to work with. My staff has been awesome ever since I’ve been here, it’s a tribute to them and I’m excited for many more,” Gandara said.

Miami kicks off its 2018 campaign against the FAU Owls at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 at the James L. Knight Sports Complex as part of the Sunshine State Challenge.

“It feels amazing and kind of surreal,” Bird said. It’s definitely different than previous years, but everyone adds their own thing to the mix. I’m really excited for us to play this year.”